Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,274 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,037 feet
Pikes Peak  -  14,109 feet
Mt. Sherman  -  14,043 feet
White Ridge  -  13,684 feet
Mt. Yale  -  14,200 feet
Date Posted:  06/23/2015
Date Climbed:   06/14/2015
Author:  bergsteigen
 New peak skis, decadal lines, gathering fun and why nots   

Mt Yale

Date: May 30
Trailhead: Denny Creek
Mileage: 6.2
Elevation Gain: 4,224'
Route: West face
Partners: Ben, Nick and a bunch of hikers at the gathering

I'm sure Ben will write a TR for this, but it might take a year. So I figured I'd throw up a couple photos to wet your appetite.

With snow conditions not being quite right for the peaks I wanted to ski (like the Needle - though it turns out I could have skied it on this day), I figured I would rather go to the gathering and ski with some BC noobs. I let them call the ball on which peak, they would all be repeats for me anyway. A 9pm lateral pass the night before, swapped the dreaded Columbia out for a more social Yale.

A short night of sleep and we were on the trail around 4am. I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to ascend the route, and wait on the summit if needed, instead of having to rush. I've read their ski TR's before... Boot, boot, boot up the trail we went. Hadn't been on the standard trail of Yale since 2000, so I didn't remember much of it. We didn't slap on the skis until after we should have, well past the stream crossing and up that first headwall. From there it was a short skin over to where the other gathering participants were booting up the slope to the summit ridge. Yay, no creating the booter today! Good thing, since none of the skiers brought crampons and the snow was quite firm. Hard freeze here!

The summit ridge didn't quite look like the typical Colorado snowy ridge, it looked a bit more Cascade-like. Short while later we were with the rest of the gathering on the summit. With the hard freeze we had no need to rush. Soon enough the hikers left, either back down the standard, over to Mascot, or from the East ridge, the only common point was the summit on the 4 routes today.

With everyone departing, Ben and Nick wanted to start skiing, even though we had at least 20-30 more minutes to wait. The route down the face was a lot more filled in that it looked on the way up, and not a single rock was hit by any of us. The snow was quite firm, but still edge-able. Once onto the slope below the ridge, the lack of waiting for a warmup took it's toll. Instead of high speed super-G turns in luscious corn, I had to shut it down as my skis hopped over the still too firm surface. Ben, being only recently from the East Coast, handled the icy snow better than my 16yr separation from WNY ice skiing. I know I'm a spoiled powder/corn skier. Timing a snow slope is not just a science, but an art form.

We diverted from the regular trail down below, to cut off a little bit of mileage. Once across the stream, it was a long, hot, slow slog back to the cars and relaxing at the gathering.

West face of Yale

Nick skinning up

Yale's summit ridge

The more Cascade-esque ridge

Ben and his unrequited ski love: Columbia

Nick doesn't need 2 selfie sticks - just 2 photographers!

Ben dropping the face

Nick skiing on the face

Ben skiing with a big view behind

Nick making some big turns

Ben shredding the line

Ben racing past

A glissader has no chance of catching Ben

Ben buzzing the tower

Mt Sherman & White Ridge

Date: June 7
Trailhead: 4 mile
Mileage: 5.4
Elevation Gain: 2,779'
Route: East face, South gully
Partners: Zach

The weather this weekend was supposed to be crap. Funny how wrong it was! Again. It's becoming a broken record. Since we didn't expect a hard freeze, and also didn't want much approach below 13K where the snow would be mush, we punted for 13er White Ridge. Zach and I camped just inside cell service along the road up to the trailhead. Good thing, since I got a 3am text from Alex saying that his truck battery was dead, and that he wouldn't be able to meet us.

As soon as I got out of my car in the morning, I could tell there was a hard freeze. Darn, we could have gone for a bigger line today! Oh well. We drove up to where the ice on the road started. Ice. Fully frozen ice. With the chill I was in no rush gearing up. It was cold outside, and warm inside my car. Zach was over by my car when we saw a skier coming down the road. What? So Zach asks him what's up. He's already skied Sherman - at sunrise. Why oh why did he do that? "To avoid the wet slides". Umm ok...? This dude was lucky I couldn't hear him over my car's heater blowing hot air on me. I probably would have fallen over laughing. I've never heard anything more ridiculous and completely unnecessarily painful before. What a Jerry. Skiing firm icy hardpack is not fun, and can be incredibly dangerous on steep lines. In fact, I find it more dangerous than skiing a line a tad bit too late. Loose an edge... ouch! But Sherman is like the Berthoud Pass of 14ers, just put on blinders to the gapers.

So instead of having to boot ice in crampons up the line we wanted on White Ridge, we decided that skinning up to the saddle would be more efficient, and would take more time from just waiting on the summit. Since we would be waiting a loooong while for this snow to warm up. It was a fairly pleasant skin up, especially when we finally go into the sun. It was really cold out. Soon enough, I was looking over to my left at Sherman. Hmmmm.... it's right there. So close. It's east face already in the sun. Why don't we go summit Sherman, ski that east face and then go over to the southern line on White Ridge. We have nothing but time on our hands today.

So at the saddle we took a detour to our left and went up to the summit. Well, just below the summit ridge, as the wind was howling up there. So what do you do when the wind is howling and the snow is ice? You wait. and wait....and wait some more.

The snow started to feel a bit warmer, and we kinda wanted to get over to our intended line. So up into the wind and over to the true summit. Or at least whatever was right above the steepest section on Sherman. Not sure I skied the steepest part when I skied Sherman before, so why not. Well, we soon found out how icy that howling wind kept the snow. It was quite a painful descent! Funny, it was 10am or so, and the snow still hadn't warmed up much since 6am when the jerry skied it earlier - to avoid the non existent wet slides.

Ice ice baby

Skinning into the sun

What do you do when the snow is icy firm? WAIT!

Walking the summit ridge

Zach on the steep icy section of Sherman - hold that edge!

Skiing over to White Ridge

After that painful ski, we contour skied over to the saddle with White Ridge. A short while later, through hurricane force winds, we were on the summit. Guess what we did? We waited some more. The sun was barely on the south face and the clouds were building. The snow needed more time.

Eventually around noon, we figured we had waited enough, the clouds were really building. Time to hope the snow was warm enough to not lose a filling. (Yes that actually happens when you ski icy hardpack).

Amazingly, the snow being slightly protected from the hurricane force wind from above, was perfect. Luscious corn and the perfect slope angle to let it rip at high speeds. So both Zach and I let it go all the way down the slope. Well worth the wait!

Booting over to White Ridge

Zach on the top section of the line

Zach with Horseshoe behind

Throwing some corn

Lovely lovely corn!

Our line on White Ridge

Castle & Conundrum Peak

Date: June 13
Trailhead: Castle Creek - 1st stream crossing
Mileage: 9.9
Elevation Gain: 4,633'
Routes: Conundrum Couloir, North face couloir
Partners: JordanC

I've tried to ski Castle and Conundrum for at least the previous 2 years. Last year I even got to the trailhead, but a 1am lightning storm turned me around before I even left my car. This year, I was pretty determined to ski these classics. I just hoped my timing was good and that the skies would be clear enough for a good freeze.

Jordan had already skied Castle before, but not Conundrum. So we decided Conundrum first, then Castle. Seemed the proper order to the sun warming at the time. So at the ripe hour of 1:30, we started booting up the road, the very wet road. Some snow before the second stream/bridge crossing and then dry again. Swapped out my wet trail runners for ski boots when a snow crossing went deep. We were able to boot all the way up to the 4WD trailhead before we put on crampons for the remainder of the climb.

Didn't quite make the base of the couloir for sunrise as I had hoped, but the snow was super frozen, so we didn't need to anyway. The couloir looked pretty rough with a small runnel and Avy debris, but with some soft snow, it should be fine. Jordan took the front point lead up the 800' of the couloir and around the behemoth cornice above. From there, I scrambled the standard route, and Jordan booted the snow route to the summit.

With the sun hitting that upper summit snow, we decided to drop it and then wait below on the couloir. Don't need to wet slide down cliffs. It was quite steep and as such I did a kick turn to not stress the snowpack much, before dropping the ~60 deg pitch onto the top of the couloir to finish the waiting.

Sickle Moon behind Malamute

Viewing up the bumpy Conundrum Couloir

Jordan approaching the narrow choke

Behemoth cornice!

The mighty Castle baking in the sun

Pyramid and the Bells in the clouds

Me dropping onto the east face of Conundrum - Photo Credit: Jordan

Jordan about to drop down to the top of the couloir

Waiting. Seems to be the theme of this TR. It's one thing to ski Sherman's icy slope too early. It's quite another to ski Conundrum Couloir too early. The consequences are quite different. Catch an edge going down this one, you'll end up at the bottom quite bruised and battered. At least this one doesn't dog leg, so you wouldn't bounce off the rocky cliffs at the side. So while Castle was baking in the sun, our couloir was shrouded in clouds and shadows. Wait and wait and wait some more. Nothing like a slooow wait, before a hurry up and run up Castle. On this day, skiing the NE face of Castle first would have been better than Conundrum. Sure the north couloir on Castle was still kinda in the shade, but that face is more easterly than I was expecting!

Jordan waiting on top of Conundrum Couloir - need soft corn snow!

Eventually I couldn't wait any longer, if we had to safety ski this line, we would have to. Castle wasn't waiting for us! So Jordan drops the initial pitch and calls up that it isn't icy at all. The runnel on the way up was so icy firm, we could barely get our pointy's into it. So after Jordan finds a safe spot, I drop down. It wasn't perfect corn, but it certainly wasn't the icy nightmare I was imagining. We finish off the couloir quickly and ski over to the base of Castle for a quick transition.

Jordan perched in the couloir

Jordan shredding the lower couloir

Me skiing Conundrum Couloir - Photo Credit: Jordan

Since Jordan booted Conundrum, it's my turn to boot up Castle. The snow was no longer icy firm like this morning, but a bit more soft than I'd like. I test the snow frequently and keep going, as fast as humanly possible. At the saddle, I'm done. Exhausted. So Jordan takes over the last couple hundred feet to the summit, where we quickly transition for the downhill.

A safety ski down the east face, then some surprisingly good turns down the north couloir. The snow surface was a bit rough from snow coming off the summit cornice area, but with the warming, the snow was rather good to ski down just to skiers left of the runnel. We both made short work of that couloir since it was later than desired.

Looking up Castle's NE face

Jordan taking over the booter on the way up the east ridge to the summit

Jordan hucking some rocks on the ridge ski down

Jordan about to drop the chute

Jordan riding

Jordan looking back up at the line

Jordan riding with Conundrum behind

The mighty castle has been slid!

From there it was a few short drops until we found ourselves in really soft snow near the road. Here is where we saw 4 other people on their way up. (Now that is late!). When the snow became bottomless, we quickly exit over to the road. We almost decide to start walking it. But then realize we could ski the horrific sun cups at the side of the road for a bit more distance. We both go without gloves - since we didn't think we would fall - despite knowing falling in this type of terrain is highly probable.

Booting down the remainder of the road, we run into a couple more people, some that gape at the skis on our backs. We make it back to the car just as the skies let loose. Pretty adequate timing overall, guess mid June sun is different than May in terms of timing line aspects!

Pikes Peak

Date: June 14
Trailhead: summit
Mileage: 1.88
Elevation Gain: 2,001'
Route: Railroad Couloir
Partners: BillM, Zach, Craig

A line that comes in once a decade or so: Must ski it! Zach hadn't even skied off the summit of Pikes yet, despite it being in his backyard. So why not? Sleep in, drive to the summit, ski down, climb up. Simple!

We car pooled in 2 vehicles, since Zach wanted to hit a line on the way out. We were one of the first groups on the summit via the road, and didn't spend any time with the tourists. Just walked over to our line and poked at it a bit. The top part was softening, but we could see it was still partly shady. After gearing up, we started leap frogging down the line. Top part was still pretty firm, so many of us stayed skier left where the sun had hit for longer. The lower section was where the money corn was. I dropped a few hundred feet lower than the others, just because the snow was getting so nice. Paid for it, since the snow was getting quite post-holy.

North Face of Pikes from the lake

Looking down the line

Zach at the top of the line

Bill shredding the RR

Zach flying past

Me skiing the RR - Photo Credit: Zach

Looking down the lower half of the line

Throwing some snow - Photo Credit: Zach

View from the bottom.

Once I got up to my partner's booter, it got a lot easier. Sun was still out, and we all delayered for what we thought was going to be a hot climb back up. Another couple stopped well above our low point and put in a booter as well. They must have been amazon tall, since I could barely use their steps. Gonna be a quad buster today!

Booting back up

Clouds coming in

Unfortunately, the clouds that started forming above us, didn't just cool us down, they started talking to us. We had at least another 1000' of vert to go, but we ended up being pinned down in a thunder - graupel storm for at least 20-30 minutes. Once the noise stopped, it was like a sprint to the top. That's when the huge booter really hurt. Part way up Bill took over, and I could at least move faster with the smaller staircase. A rare occasion where the summit means "safety". Hid out in Bill's truck waiting for Zach and Craig who were slightly behind us. Amusingly, that's when the clouds parted, and it was clear to the north.

Looking down the line

Mega huge graupel!

The line from the drive down

After closing the road for a short time, they reopened it. The summit was in the clouds still. Motorcycles were skidding all over the place, snowplows were clearing the graupel. As we were driving down, a car flagged us down and asked: "Where's the summit?" This time, I wasn't going to let Zach answer. So I can finally answer the snarky comment I've always wanted to: "You're on the summit!" Zach takes over and points them in the direction of the summit house in the fog/clouds. Tourists ask dumb questions, you're gonna get my humor back!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great year
07/01/2015 20:35
Such a wonderful year for ski mountaineering. Thanks Otina for a great season! Looking forward to next year!

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